By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The federal government yesterday received 493 Nigerians evacuated from Libya with a vow to unveil a rehabilitation plan to sooth their pains after their harrowing experience in the North African country.
More than 5,700 Nigerians are expected to be evacuated from Libya in the next two weeks.
The 493 returnees, who are the first batch of those evacuated from Libya, arrived in a passenger plane belonging to Max Air which touched down at the Port Harcourt International Airport at exactly 4:45p.m. while the returnees were later moved to a transit camp located within the airport for immigration and medical checks.
The federal government pledged to rehabilitate and train the returnees on skills to enable them cater for themselves and live a profitable life like other Nigerians.
The government also called on the returnees made of mostly young men and women to use their experience in Libya to educate other youths in the country on the dangers of embarking on such hazardous journey.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, spoke yesterday while receiving the returnees at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, near Port Harcourt.
Onyeama said: “We know that many of you were trafficked; we know that many of you were taken to Libya without your consent. I want to assure you that the federal government will rehabilitate you and train you on skills to enable you cater for yourselves like other Nigerians.
“We want you to tell other young boys and girls about what you had closely experienced so that they will not make mistakes or be deceived into embarking on this hazardous journey.”
The minister stated that President Muhammadu Buhari sent him in company of the Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Maihaja, the Federal Commissioner for Refugees, Sadiya Faruk, and the Special Adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, to Libya to negotiate for the evacuation of the returnees.
He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari put all necessary arrangements in place to enable us travel to Libya to bring you back to Nigeria. I was accompanied on the journey by the Director-General of NEMA, Federal Commissioner for Refugees and the Special Adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs, among others.
“All of us went to Libya, met with their leaders and discussed to ensure your safe passage here. We faced a lot of challenges but we were able to overcome them and brought you back to Nigeria. We saw the conditions in which you were held; they were very difficult conditions. You were held in Libya under very inhuman condition. We all saw the very traumatic conditions in which you were held and our hearts went out to you. I must say each and every one of us was proud of you because not withstanding what you went through, you maintained your dignity. You maintained your respect. You stood up when we came and you sang the Nigerian National Anthem and recited the pledge. You respected yourselves despite the most harrowing conditions you were held. We are so proud of you. And we know one thing you have learnt is that your lives mean much to Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Your return has been a result of national team work. I wish to on your behalf thank especially the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, and the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Chief Kenneth Kobani, who has been with us since yesterday waiting to receive you.
“After what you have gone through, because we spoke to you in Libya, we want you to also go out there as advocates to tell other young people what your eyes have seen; what you have experienced so that they will not go through what you have been through.
“Mr. President is determined to make the country better so that our youth will never want to leave this country to pass through what you have experienced.”
Also addressing the returnees, Secretary to Rivers State Government (SSG), Chief Kenneth Kobani, said the effort to evacuate Nigerians from Libya was a collective one.
He noted that Nigerians were a peculiar people and can achieve almost everything whenever there is cooperation. Kobani stated that Rivers State Government was ready to make sacrifices for the unity of the country.
Meanwhile the returnees have tales of woe, describing Libya as worse than hell.